Grass-roots marketing

Melissa Gibson at Fiber Flame. (photo by Violet Snow)

Melissa Gibson at Fiber Flame. (photo by Violet Snow)

Two years ago, Business Insider magazine predicted that by 2020, more than 40 percent of the American workforce, or 60 million people, will be freelancers, contractors, and temp workers, according to a study conducted by software company Intuit. Most of these solo entrepreneurs, like today’s freelancers, will not have a big advertising budget. Woodstock marketing expert Melissa Gibson is teaching small businesses and entrepreneurs how to get attention for their products and services without spending a lot of money.

“You could be the greatest at what you do, but if no one knows about you, you’re not going to help anyone,” said Gibson as she was setting up for a workshop at Fiber Flame Studio. “It’s about leveraging your networks and being clear about your competitive advantage.”

The first two sessions of Gibson “Marketing Won & Done Workshops” were each targeted toward a particular group, one for health and wellness professionals, and the other for creatives. The remaining session will be held on Wednesday, July 8, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., and will be oriented towards retail, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. “I made different editions of the workshop because it’s comforting to know that others in your field share your challenges,” she noted, although the principles she teaches, such as collaborative marketing, can apply to any venture.


Gibson has marketing in her blood. Her great-uncle Alvin and his wife Dora started the famed Doral Hotel in Miami, and a grandfather was the convention manager at Grossinger’s. With an MBA in brand management from the University of Georgia and a degree in agriculture economics from Cornell, Gibson has headed her own marketing firm, New in Town, since 1991, advising clients of all kinds on how to stand out from the crowd. She’s also a championship snowboarder.

“I enable small local companies to compete with big-box stores and online sellers,” said Gibson, who was formerly marketing director for Rethink Local, a group that encourages consumers to support the local economy. “You should never have to go online to buy a gift in Woodstock. It’s your responsibility as a citizen to promote local businesses.” Now on the advisory board of Rethink Local, Gibson speaks widely on such topics as sustainability and women’s networking.


Collaboration exercises

At Fiber Flame, east of Woodstock on Route 212, she spoke against a backdrop of jars of colorful art materials, used in the public studio’s crafts projects and arts events, an appropriate setting for a class on innovative marketing for creative professionals. Participants included an interior decorator, a photographer, Fiber Flame co-founder Shea Lord-Farmer, Ashokan Center’s Ruth Merenda of musical duo Mike and Ruthy, and others.

Gibson offered catchy lists of goals and principles (The 3 C’s of Marketing: connect, convert, cultivate; 8 Ways to Collabor8) as she outlined the elements of a successful campaign. An exercise encouraged attendees to identify their personal strengths and values as part of devising a brand, or unique selling proposition. “Be specific,” she emphasized. “A small niche will set you apart. Don’t try to please everyone, or you’ll get lost in the crowd.”

Perhaps the centerpiece of the workshop was the collaboration exercise, in which pairs of participants conferred, looking for ways their businesses might be able to intersect for mutual benefit. When Gibson led the exercise at an Etsy conference, the owner of a furniture shop was inspired to make music stands for a woman who was starting a youth orchestra. Each entrepreneur can benefit from exposure to the other’s network of customers, they can share marketing costs, and the social service aspect of the project enhances their reputations.

Gibson is big on encouraging businesses to participate in the work of social organizations. “Association with a good cause gives you a competitive edge,” she pointed out. “Find something you’re passionate about that supports the common good and broadcasts your values. You’ll get more business, you’ll make your community a better place, and it’ll make you feel good.”


Melissa Gibson’s Marketing Won & Done Workshop for retail, entrepreneurs, and small businesses will be held Wednesday, July 8, 6 – 9 p.m. at Fiber Flame Studio, 1776 Route 212, Saugerties. The cost is $99. To register, go to and scroll down.